Did explorers really stumble on a "lost civilization" in the Honduran jungle? That's what National Geographic quoted them as saying, but several scholars have since penned an open letter calling the claim exaggerated, the Smithsonian reports. In the original story, the group of experts were searching for the mythical "White City" or "City of the Monkey God" when they found remnants of an unnamed, "scarcely studied" civilization. But in their letter, critics (listed here) say reporters have:
- ignored "extensive previous research" in the area.
- sensationalized the find by focusing on the "White City" legend.
- exaggerated the discovery angle, when the indigenous people of Mosquitia may well be descendants of that "vanished" civilization, and have "significant local knowledge of the archaeological resources in this region."
"Any words like ‘lost’ or ‘civilization’ should set off alarm bells," an anthropology professor tells the Guardian. Another professor calls it "a colonialist discourse which disrespects" indigenous people. But National Geographic defends its coverage, and the expedition's top US archaeologist maintains that the site was "relatively undisturbed" when they found it. Meanwhile, a Cornell professor says the colonialist-rhetoric charge "strikes me as political correctness." What bothers him, he says, "is that there’s an awful lot that’s known that National Geographic left out"—namely that the area is likely littered with similar sites. (The mystery of another lost civilization was recently solved.)